Sinners and Saints: Ghostly Celebrities of the Seine

Sinners and Saints: Ghostly Celebrities of the Seine
For more Paris hair-raising, goosebump-inducing tales, check out Hazel Smith’s fantastical story about ghosts in Paris In Paris the leaves are falling, so snuggle tight. It’s time to re-crack open my faux fur-trimmed, pleather-bound volume of spirited adventures in the City of Light and Fright. I’ve been digging through old newspaper clippings for years, saving any having to do with my favorite saints and naughty sinners. Cutting to the ghostly chase, here are nine of them. Let’s go raise some spirits. Boo, la la. Whilst traipsing through the Jardin des Tuileries, watch out for “Le Petit Homme Rouge!” (“Pomona” by François Barois; photos by Theadora Brack) Le Petit Homme Rouge Whilst traipsing through the Jardin des Tuileries, keep your eyes peeled for “Le Petit Homme Rouge.” We have astrology-maniac Catherine de Médici to thank for this angel of vengeance. Prior to becoming an otherworldly imp, personal butcher Jean l’Écorcheur (a.k.a., “the Little Red Man”) had earned his bread as the queen’s favorite henchman. After making a killing (so to speak), little Jean was murdered in turn by Catherine herself, no doubt because he knew too many of her darker secrets. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to shine at the workplace. Like the old Russian proverb puts it, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” During his final moments Jean is said to have muttered, “Je serai de retour!” beating the Terminator’s “I’ll be back” by well over 400 years. And back he came. Like a bad penny, that’s how he rolled. “Le Petit Homme Rouge” not only revisited Catherine, but from time to time he made life hell for Henry IV, Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and even Napoleon — never spreading joy but always bringing horrific fortune to the royal lot. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” they say, but that goes double when there’s an angry ghost butcher lurking near the throne. “L’inconnue de la Seine,” cast from an unknown 16-year-old who washed up on the banks of the river in the 1880s. (Theadora Brack photo; flea market find) The Unknown Celebrity of the Seine Among the artsy clutter that once adorned nearly every artist’s lair was a plaster face with a mysterious smile. These were cast from a famous death mask called “L’inconnue de la Seine,” made from an unknown 16-year-old who washed up on the banks of the river in the 1880s with an eerily pleasant expression on her corpse. Copies quickly became popular fixtures in artists’ studios and salons as well as the inspiration for numerous literary works. Camus called her the “drowned Mona Lisa,” and Nabokov celebrated her in his poetry. In the 1960s, the nameless girl’s visage was resurrected once again as the face of “Resusci Anne,” the rubber CPR training dummy. Because of this, hers is sometimes called “the most-kissed face of all time.” Consider tossing a flower in the water for her as you stroll along the Seine.

Lead photo credit : (C) Theadora Brack

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Theadora is a Paris-based writer who has a regular column, called “My Life in Paris," in France Today magazine.